|Photo Courtesy of DigitalArt|
And I've started to write this post so many times but something always came up. But today's the day I plan on actually getting it written!
First off, I have to say that I am very impressed with the school. I have nothing but good things to say about the teachers- my four year old, Ike, has 1 main teacher and two assistant teachers in his preschool, plus another teacher who comes in to teach them letters, etc... This teacher who teaches Ike letters is actually 6 year old Lee's regular teacher, and Ike's head teacher comes to Lee's class to teach him for an hour or so daily. The principal is also wonderful. Each of the aforementioned staff members are caring, dedicated, and concerned about the well being of each individual child, giving them attention as needed, trying to help them transition, and giving them lots of love. The kids also really like their teachers and think they're great. I don't think I could have chosen a school I could have been happier with.
But that doesn't mean the transition to school has been an easy one, either for the boys or for anyone in the family.
I was talking to my friend about my plans for sending the boys to school for a year to learn "Swahili" (the name I gave the local language), and then to continue to homeschool them again next year. She asked me "Well, what will you do if your kids don't want to be homeschooled next year? What then?" I told her that we'd figure out something if/when that happens, but the likelihood of that happening are slim. My kids would vastly prefer to stay home with me than go to school.
Simply put, my kids like being homeschooled, they miss it, and so do I.
Every single day, getting the kids to school is a battle.
On a rare "good day" like today, I get them to school with no fuss and no tears, on time... by bribing them (usually with junk food. Ick.) On a less good day, the morning is stressful, and the kids procrastinate and do what they can to make sure that the morning does not go smoothly, fighting me every step of the way, so that we miss the first two buses that would get us to school on time, so then we have the choice either of walking the nice 20-25 minute walk up hill, or wait 40 minutes for the next bus, which means we're very late... And that happens most mornings, actually. Those mornings usually involve lots of frustration for everyone, and again, involve bribing the kids to get them to go to school. (I gotta make some more "healthy" junk food so at least the bribes are healthy bribes.)
And then there are mornings like yesterday. When I pack the kids a nice lunch, get myself and the baby and the kids all ready to leave for school, and then Lee tells me "I'm not going to school. You can't make me go to school. I refuse to walk to the bus or to school, and you can't carry me and take Ike and Anneliese to school. I just am not going to school and you can't make me." So then I threaten him (not meaning it, but how would he know?) that "Fine, if you don't want to come, don't come, but I'm going to take Ike and Anneliese to the school, and you'll be left at home all by yourself and be very sad since you're lonely." And then Ike responds "I'm still not going to come with you. I'll stay home and be very sad, and will even cry because I miss you, but I still am not coming. I don't want to go to school!"
And then, of course, Ike joins the party and also says that he refuses to go to school. And since I have but 2 hands, and 3 kids, and no car, and need their cooperation in order to get them there, and no motivation will work to get them there... I give up. And tell them "Fine, you stay home today. But don't expect anything from me today. I am ignoring you the whole morning and you'll have to entertain yourself." And they agree to that. and when they start misbehaving, I tell them "Shape up right now. I told you that you can't expect anything from me right now, I won't help you solve your fight, I won't interfere, and I don't want to deal with your fighting on top of your refusal to go to school." And it works.
Then I feel like it's hopeless. Like my boys will refuse to go to school every single morning, that they won't learn Swahili, that every morning will be a battle... and then I get pleasantly surprised by a smooth morning like today.
On the grand scheme of things, Lee is having a much easier time transitioning to school than Ike is. Lee really loves his teacher, and I see the feeling is mutual. We had a PTA meeting last night, and Lee's teacher told me just how impressed he was with him. That he admires how, even though he doesn't understand much, he sits patiently, paying attention to try to figure out what the teacher is saying. And how Lee is very well behaved. And how he gets such enjoyment watching Lee draw such beautiful pictures and write things well, etc. On days that Lee doesn't show up in school, the teacher calls us up and tells Lee how much he missed him. The teacher's name means "Dear" and it is so suitable, since he is such a sweetheart.
There are issues that Lee has in school, some of them simple ("I don't want to wear my shoes all day, but my teacher won't let me take my shoes off"), some more complex ("It's hard for me to sit still so long in class when I don't understand what is going on") and I reassure Lee that I will speak to his teacher about the issue, and the teacher is willing to make exceptions for Lee because he understands that this transition isn't easy for him, and allows him to leave the class to take a break to play when it's getting too much, allows him to color in his seat while the teacher is talking, and is cool with him taking off his shoes.
But the biggest issue Lee has is that he doesn't understand what is flying in class much of the time. Usually the teacher explains/teaches something, then gives the class coloring sheets about the topic, at which point Lee finally understands what the teacher was talking about. And there are topics they're learning in school that we've already covered at home, and those are topics that Lee has an easier time with when they're learning in school, because then he just has to figure out the language instead of the information the teacher is relaying as well... So last night, I spoke with the teacher and he agreed to give Lee the coloring sheet at the start of the lesson, so that he has a visual cue about what the teacher is teaching the class, to help him try to understand, and he also agreed to send me the lesson plans in advance, so I can familiarize Lee with the topics before class, which will help him understand the language better.
I am very happy at how readily the teachers are working with me and Lee to help work around these issues.
Lee is picking up Swahili at a pretty decent pace. He comes home with new words in Swahili on a regular basis. And his Swahili didn't start from zero, which has helped him out. After just one week of being in school, he started playing with his Swahili speaking classmate who happens to live 2 houses away from us! (Out of 12 kids in his class- just our luck that a really sweet boy lives practically next door!) Lee's Swahili is pretty rudimentary, and he and the boy can't have complex conversations together, but I see they are able to communicate what they want to teach other, and have fun playing together. And that has been the best result of sending Lee to school- now he's not too intimidated to play with Swahili speaking kids, and is increasing his socializing opportunities because of that.
And on top of that, the boys in his class really like him, and look up to him. (Literally as well. He's a head taller than them all, since he is a year older.) I get such a kick out of it, that when I bring him to school, especially when we come late and class already started, I hear the class cry out excitedly "Lee is here! Lee is here!!!" They ask him to help them build lego stuff together, ask him to help them with things he's good at, ooh and ahh over his drawings, etc... Which is really good for Lee, because instead of feeling like a stupid idiot who can't communicate in Swahili, he feels special. Overall, Lee is fine with school. He'd prefer to be homeschooled, but doesn't dislike school. He just thinks the school day is too long... (Its from 8:45-1:20... hardly a long school day...)
Now Ike is having a much, much, much harder time.
He comes home from school happy, says he had a good day... but the teacher told me that sometimes he just sits by himself in the classroom, not really wanting to participate. There is one boy that he actually plays with, another English speaking boy... And at the start of the year, he was having a really really hard time transitioning to school.
One day I felt like an evil mother, my heart was breaking. As soon as we got to the schoolyard, he pulled out of my hands and ran the other way, out of the schoolyard, and I had to run after him and catch him, and drag him to the classroom, where the teacher literally had to hold his hand to stop him from running after me when I left, as he cried. You have no idea how hard that was for me. But that afternoon, I felt better, because I asked Ike how he felt about my having done that that morning, and if he was upset at me for that, and he said no, he wasn't upset, I could do that again, because he likes school and had a good day.
Most mornings, at the start of the school year, I sat with him at the play tables for the first 5-10 minutes, to help him transition better. He'd color or play a game, with me there beside him, and some days when I went to leave, he cried a bit, but then I hugged him and cheered him up, and I left without him crying. Other days, he'd be too enraptured by what he was doing and he'd ignore me when I told him I was leaving, and I had to actually get his attention to say goodbye. But since most mornings my departure was with sadness, I asked some similarly minded friends (who don't have the attitude that its good to toughen up kids by making them cry) what they suggested doing, and this is what they recommended. They said to transition with my kids, by telling them before we left for school what the next few hours would entail- that we'd get dressed, walk or take the bus to school, and then we'd go into the classroom, and Ike would play with the toys and Mommy would sit with him, and then Mommy would leave, and Ike would probably get sad, and might even cry, and that's ok, because Ike is just sad because he loves Mommy, and Mommy loves Ike too, but Ike will have a fun day in preschool, and Mommy will be going home to get work done, etc... and then Mommy will come pick him up. And that a) knowing in advance what will happen before it does would help and b) that I am acknowledging and validating his feelings and not trying to make him feel bad for feeling sad, would also help...
And it really did. Ike stopped crying when we got to school, and would go into class easily. First we had this thing where he'd tell me how many kisses and hugs he wanted me to give him and how many he wanted to give me, and we'd do that, and then he'd walk into the classroom happily, but now he doesn't even need to do that, and I just give him a kiss, say goodbye, and he happily goes into the classroom.
While he's inside, he doesn't really participate so much because of the language barrier, but he isn't crying or moping and has fun with the projects and the toys, so... And since there is an improvement, I'm hopeful.
But Ike still tells me nearly on a regular basis "I'm never going to school anymore! I know how to speak Swahili, so I don't need to go to school anymore." But of course, that is not true. He maybe has a few words in Swahili, and that's it... and that's partially why he's having a hard time transitioning...
Ike's teacher also agreed to tell me in advance the subjects they'd be covering in class, so I can practice those specific words with Ike and familiarize him with the topic...
I spoke both with the principal and school psychologist (both wonderful people) and came up with a plan to help the kids have an easier time transitioning to school. We spoke about potentially making the day shorter for them, either by coming later or leaving earlier, but after the conversation, they convinced me of the logic of not taking them out earlier or bringing them later (math is the last subject of the day for Lee, and math is the subject he has the easiest time in, for example... and that the boys have free play before lessons start, which helps them transition from the stress of the morning routine to allow them to be able to concentrate in class, not to mention the socializing involved, which is easier for the kids than the times when they have to focus on what the teacher is saying in Swahili...) so I am not (intentionally) doing that anymore... Only once in a blue moon.
What they did recommend to me was to have more play dates with the classmates outside of school, so they look forward to coming to school to see that friend. They also suggested that I buy a certain book that has 1000 first Swahili words for kids, and review it with them.... We didn't even need to buy it, because my in laws had it in their house- it was my husband's book when he was a kid, to help him learn Swahili when he first moved to this country from South Africa. The kids like the book, and we're working on language acquisition with them via the book.
Another recommendation they made was to a) give something in their lunch box that they'd look forward to, and to have a rewards system. I built the rewards system in a way that it would taper off eventually.
What I did was buy stickers that are 3D and actually look like small gemstones. (My kids are in love with "diamonds" and collect such things in their treasure box.) Each day that the boys go to school, they get a "diamond" sticker, and after a certain amount of stickers, they'd get a small prize. First I gave a prize after 6 days, then I'm increasing it to 10 days, then 15, etc... until eventually I stop giving prizes, just the "diamond stickers" which are a small present on their own, because of my kids' love for "treasures"... and then eventually, when we run out of those, hopefully my kids will be accustomed enough to school already that they won't need that motivation for school.
Anyhow, so as you see... school for the kids isn't the easiest transition for the kids.
And as for me... I'm finding it hard also. The biggest hardship for me is that I'm not a stickler to schedules. i am more of a "free spirit" who finds deadlines and schedules very restrictive. I like to be spontaneous, and to change my schedule based on what I feel like doing... and then being in school doesn't allow it. Their school day is so short that by the time I get them there (especially on days that they're running late), I have such a short amount of time until I have to go back to school and pick them up. I can go to the city to do stuff, yes, but usually only one or two short errand, instead of a whole list of errands I would get done if I didn't have to be back on time to pick them up from school at 1:20... So I'm constantly stressing about making it back on time for them... Or if I'm at home, I feel like its barely any time to get anything done while they're out... On some days, I feel like I'm spending more time getting to and from the school, for drop off and pick up, than I have at home without the boys, to get things done.
On top of that, I'm really working on getting Anneliese on a better schedule. She goes to sleep way too late, in part because she naps late... So finally I'm trying to get her to nap earlier... which she often does at 12 or 12:30... and then I have to wake her up when she is still tired, in order to leave the house at 1 to go pick them up from school... And when I do that, she is still tired, and crashes at 6 pm, and wakes up at 8 pm from her second nap, and is ready to go to sleep for the night only at 1 or 2 am...
When she has her full nap, starting at 11, and I don't have to wake her up to pick up the boys, she goes to sleep for the night happily at 8... And the same happens when I ask a friend to pick up my boys and let Anneliese sleep as much as she needs to...
So this pick up is really making my life harder...
And on some days, when I feel they need it, I just let the boys stay home with no fuss. And those days are beautiful. And I wish every day could be like that... but then I remember that I am sending them to school for a reason, because they really need to learn the language...
I've had so many doubts, back and forth, whether I should pull them out of school or keep them in there... but as the days go by, I'm seeing the boys are getting more and more used to school, and having an easier transition. Especially since they know they're just going to school for the year.
So there you have it... An update on the boys being in school.
Have you homeschooled your kids, and then sent them to school? What did you do to help them transition? Were you happy with the decision or did you regret it? What do you think of the tips I was given? Would they have worked with your kids?
If you have any further tips for me that you think will help my kids transition more easily to school, I'm happy to hear them.